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LONDON (Reuters) - The hacking of confidential medical exemptions risks tarnishing innocent athletes and turning people off elite sport, former world champion runner Steve Cram has warned.
The 55-year-old Briton, the 1983 world champion at 1,500 meters and 1984 Olympic silver medalist, spoke before a fifth batch of documents were published by cyber hackers on the fancybear.net website on Friday.
The data related to Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs), which allow athletes to take banned substances for verified medical needs and are signed off by sports federations. There is no suggestion any of those named have broken any rules.
The world anti-doping agency (WADA) has said it believes the hackers are Russian and gained access to its anti-doping administration and management system (ADAMS) via an IOC-created account for last month's Rio Games.
Cram told BBC radio, for whom he commentates, that the TUE system was robust and athletes were being unfairly dragged into the spotlight.
"We are just normal people and normal people suffer hayfever and asthma that require long and short-term medication," he said. "Does that mean you cannot do sport?
"I think we are getting into a crazy scenario where we are assuming everyone is cheating. They aren't. We are frightening people away from top-level sport."
His words echoed those of British hockey gold medalist Sam Quek, who wrote last week about her fears that athletes could risk their health rather than applying for an exemption.
Blasting the "pathetic and faceless hackers attempting to drag athletes through the mud", she said her use of an inhaler for asthma had allowed her to perform and stay healthy.
"I am concerned that the next generation of athletes could turn away from using TUEs because they have been tarnished by these stories," she wrote on the Guardian website (www.theguardian.com).
"It’s worrying that in future Olympic cycles there could well be a hockey player like me, chasing her Olympic dream and pushing her body to its limit in search of success. What happens if she becomes out of breath and needs an inhaler?"
Those named in the leaked documents have included U.S. gymnast Simone Biles, tennis players Serena and Venus Williams and Britain's Tour de France winning cyclists Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
Friday's batch featured 41 athletes from 13 countries, including Australian and South African swimmers Cate Campbell and Cameron Van der Burgh, Swiss cyclist and Rio gold medalist Fabian Cancellara and U.S. long-distance runner Galen Rupp.
Many of the exemptions were for asthma medication via inhalers, and the drug salbutamol which is no longer on WADA's banned list.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis